Laos ready to field questions on Xayaboury dam

July 16, 2012

The Xayaboury dam project

The government is ready to answer questions concerning the Xayaboury dam and is confident it can address concerns over the cross-border impacts of the first hydropower dam planned for the Lower Mekong Basin.

The Ministry of Energy and Mines announced on Friday that it will accompany representatives of Mekong countries and development partners in Laos on a visit this week to the planned site of the first hydropower plant on the lower Mekong.

This is the first time the government has officially given foreigners access to the US$3.5 million project area. It has stayed silent on the issue despite demands from environmentalists in recent months to conduct the project transparently.

“We have nothing to hide,” Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines Mr Viraphonh Viravong said on Friday while briefing Lao media and government officials about the visit to the planned Xayaboury dam on July 16-17.

The government hired two reputable independent consultants – Poyry and Companie Nationale du Rhone – to review the concerns of environmentalists and Mekong River Commission (MRC) members, even though a prior consultation process had been completed in line with a 1995 MRC agreement.

The consultants will also take part in the Xayaboury tour and answer all of the questions put by participants concerning measures in response to the concerns of environmentalists.

Cambodian environmentalists are concerned that the dam will restrict the passage of fish, which could result in declining fish stocks in the Mekong. Large numbers of Cambodians rely on fish catches in the Tonle Sap for their livelihood.

Vietnamese environmentalists have expressed concerns about downstream sediment flow, saying construction of the dam will result in less sediment. Vietnamese farmers in the Mekong Delta depend on sediment as a natural fertiliser for rice cultivation.

Mr Viraphonh said that after completing a review of concerns over the impacts of the dam, the two consulting companies have proposed solutions to address the concerns over sediment flow and fish passage.

After a half-day presentation in Luang Prabang, tour participants will be taken to the site of the planned Xayaboury dam so they can see the latest developments for themselves.

Some international news agencies have reported that Laos has already begun construction of the dam, despite having promised it would not build the dam until it formulates measures to address the concerns of environmentalists.

Mr Viraphonh said the government had not yet built the dam on the Mekong mainstream and was hosting the tour to allow the international community to see that Laos never breaks a promise.

He said road building and resettlement of communities from the planned site was ongoing but explained that these activities would not have any negative impact on the Mekong River.

The government will not begin construction of the dam until it is convinced that it has addressed the concerns of environmentalists and Mekong member countries, Mr Viraphonh said.

Under an agreement made with the MRC in 1995, Laos must hold consultations with other MRC countries before starting the construction of any dam on the mainstream Mekong. Mr Viraphonh said that although the consultation process had been completed, Laos had not yet begun construction because it wanted to give friendly countries the chance to comment on how the potential impacts of the dam could be addressed.


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